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Census Taking in Jewish Life

Thursday, 13 May, 2021 - 3:43 pm

Recently, the Pew Research Center released its report on the Jewish community. The study looked at critical information, from population growth to evolving Jewish interests, as well as the direction in which the Jewish community at large is heading, and so on. These studies are taken across the U.S. every ten years or so. Every ten years or so, many Jewish Federations take a census of their local Jewish population. In Philadelphia, we did so in 2019 and did so ten years earlier and so on. The reason for this is to be understand how to best serve the local Jewish community.

 

It is interesting though, to point out that over a period of more than 1,300 years, while the Jewish people lived together in the desert and later in the land of Israel, it was easy to count the Jews, yet we see that they were counted only nine times.

 

The question that arises in this week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, is why did G-d want the Jews to be counted at that point?

 

The famous commentator Rashi points out that G-d counted the people of the Jewish nation because they are precious to Him, but even for something precious, you only count at pertinent times. Since the Jewish people were about to start serving in the Temple, G-d wanted to count them at that auspicious moment.

 

However, the question begs to be asked, hadn’t G-d just counted the Jews a little while earlier?  Why the need to do so again?

 

From here we learn that we are not only counted when it is necessary to gather that information, but we are counted out of love. Yet even love is not a good enough reason for us to be counted every day; only on special occasions is it essential to do so.

 

You might appreciate knowing that the underlying accomplishment of us being counted is not just about G-d’s love to us, but about G-d empowering us. Every time we are counted, G-d is revealing our hidden talents and ability to accomplish great things. When G-d says yes, you count, you make a difference, you do not blend into the crowd—each and every one of us is an individual who matters, He is telling us that we can change this world for the better. 

 

That is why it is not necessary to count us every single day, but it is important to count us at integral junctures of our life. At the times when we must be reminded of our self-worth, G-d doesn’t despair, and He lets us know how important we all are.

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